The project team meet for an update as agreed on the 17th October - and use Anna’s bar chart as an update agenda.
Anna runs through the plan again and everyone is happy. She reports back on her discussion with Stephanie Wong and that given the duration and plan they all have come up with she proposes to go back to the CEO and ask for a chance to present the final definition documentation for the ETP project to the board on Dec 4th. This is when she will outline what she expects to achieve in the pilot and when she asks for permission to proceed to run the pilot project.
‘But let’s leave that until we’ve all reported, until the end of the meeting.’
Max reports looking into the WiFi systems. ‘These look fine. The range is easily good enough and there are a variety of connections. The easiest will be USB and there are barcode readers with USB connectors so that they can be hooked up to PCs. So far this part is looking very doable. The changes to the database look pretty simple but I don’t think I mentioned the testing process before, did I?’
Three blank looks are directed in a Maxwards direction.
‘This database is one of the company’s crown jewels. If it goes down we effectively cease trading until it is up and running again so we take any change to it very seriously indeed. Any change to the database first goes to a testing group who run a kind of simulated range of stores – they give the system a severe hammering to make sure it all works properly. They have terminals and tills hooked up the test database and can simulate hundreds of simultaneous complex transactions. Once this test has been passed the modifications can go onto the live system and that happens only on Sunday evenings when all the stores are shut. I don’t even know what will happen if we go to 24 hour opening.
‘This takes around 2 months and any changes in the database have to go through this process. We don’t have that time in the plan.’
‘Better to know now rather than later’, says Anna after this has sunk in. After all, planning is all about thinking ahead’
‘This is looking increasingly like we will study and report on the weighing issues but actually test nothing. As I said before, I’ve spoken to Steph and she is ready to do a study on the changes that will have to be made in her group but there is no way we can actually make the changes for the sake of the pilot. This is all increasing the risks for the main roll out as a major part of the technology will not have been tested.’
Max suggests that they could simulate the whole thing. ‘If we got the software running and the database changed we could fill in the weights with random numbers. Then we could test everything apart from the weighing of the packaged goods without the organisational changes. Does that make sense?’
They decide to leave this until later.
Anna asks how Mike got on with the radio control technology.
‘It didn’t look possible at first as most existing systems in model boats, cars and planes are analogue – a transmitter sends a single to turn right or left or up or slow down and this actuates a slave within the model. This would not suit us at all – far too inaccurate and inappropriate for our application. However the newer end of the radio control professional market is going digital so sending a series of numbers to carry the instructions. This therefore becomes possible.’
The possibilities in Mike’s mind include buying a digitally controlled model boat and playing with it on company time.
Sue has found there is a process for getting stores to volunteer for trials. The company runs a number of trials, special offers, in store promotions, security and so on and this process suits what the team needs to do.
‘This trial is probably a little bigger and more complex than usual but it fits the pattern. We can press the button and request a trial following a well-worn path. We need to have an outline of the trial – how it works, what it aims to achieve, timescale and so on. I don’t have a specific list of store managers because the request system goes to them all. We might think about the type of stores we prefer to take part in the trial. I mean are some types of store better for the trial than others?’
‘That’s a good point’, says Anna, ‘I guess we need a variety of stores. The easier ones might in areas where credit card use is high. The challenges will come from stores where cash use is high especially in areas where, err, technology isn’t that common.’
Sue ends her report by saying that she hasn’t written anything about a PR launch yet but does have some ideas.
They decide to have one more meeting before the presentation on 4th December which is not only fixed but to which they have all been invited. Anna asks them all to decide if they want to present their part of the report or prefer to watch or even not attend. Max of course wishes to present the IT case and suggests he is best placed to do so. Sue and Mike are happy to sit at the back and let Anna take the risk.
Anna pours her time, effort and enthusiasm into preparing the presentation for the board. At many evening sessions at home she also pours copious quantities of wine into glasses much of which seems to mysteriously evaporate. Max spends time at Anna’s flat and seems entirely willing and able to pour both the same amount of wine and enthusiasm into the work.
Sitting over a hot computer they complete the definition documents that will set new standards, plus a PowerPoint summary for their presentation. This presentation is rehearsed repeatedly and polished until gleaming. They have asked each other what they hope are searching questions and agreed on a couple of key words that mean, in secret, stop what are you are saying – you are digging a hole for us all.
They recommend that the weighing system is impossible to test in the pilot, non-critical to the project and maybe impractical all together. They plan a study of the weighing issues plus a study of other forms of security methods during the pilot project. They also decide to recommend that RFID is left till later.
The detailed schedule that accompanies the presentation shows two critical paths: one runs through developing and building of sixty e-Trolleys ready for the on-site pilots and the other runs through the IT work for the tills. Both of these coincide when the pilot actually starts in three months’ time and the critical path then runs through the 3 month on-site pilots and the preparation of the report.
When the day of the 4th December arrives they feel ready, refreshed and confident of their case.
It shows. They sail through the presentation, they need not have worried. Bob, the CEO, would have given them the green light to proceed with the pilot on a much poorer case but he is pleased, no, delighted, that Anna took his request for a proper, well run project to heart. He publicly thanks her and explains that he expects all important projects to be thought through in this way before significant costs are incurred.
He explains that it not so important for the senior management to understand all the detail, but it is vital that the project can create confidence that the project team understand and can deal with the project.
Max and Anna are congratulating themselves in the corridor after the meeting when Jason steps out to congratulate them. He seems a little flustered and even huffy seeing their shared happiness but tells Anna she did really well. Anna explains how much of a help Max has been but Jason’s response is uncharacteristically brief and offhand.
‘He can’t be jealous can he’, thinks Anna as she watches him walk off. And Max looks pretty freaked out too.
Anna contacts everyone on the project and tells them that the button has been pressed and the ETP project is ‘go’.
She copies in a part of Bob’s email to her giving the project the green light but modesty leaves out the congratulations.
Work therefore begins in earnest.
Thanks to Geoff Reiss for contributing this book